Summer Winos (2.3 + 2.4)

2.3 The Changing Face of Rural Blamire

In which Blamire feels the pains of unemployment and our trio become the new faces of Shinyglow.

ANDREW: There’s a lovely scene at the top of this episode that sums up another of the series’ themes. Upon a hillside, the trio look down upon the Holm valley. Compo takes pride in the view and reckons it is scenery worth painting while Clegg seems comforted by its boringness. Blamire, on the other hand, has had enough.

BLAMIRE:  What this view lacks is a few factory chimneys. Then perhaps there’d be some work for our kind.

CLEGG: Nature lover.

COMPO: You try speaking for yourself. Some of us are idle enough to appreciate things like this.

There are three life philosophies wrapped up in a few lines. Lovely.

BOB: Yes, I like that scene as well. For all the show came to romanticise the Yorkshire countryside, it can also be extremely unsentimental about it, especially in these early episodes. Blamire’s attitude is probably fairly typical of the mid-1970s… there were mills and factories closing down left, right and centre at the time, and his concern is absolutely for the plight of the working man rather the splendour of nature.

And so we see Blamire actually looking for a job! The first suggestion we’ve had that any of our heroes are particularly dissatisfied with their idle, rambling second childhood.

I love his first attempt to secure work, in that cold, clinical office – Clegg is genuinely angry about the receptionist’s snotty demeanour towards them, isn’t he? ‘You ought to be out tending the dying with a whip,’ he snarls at her. It’s a rare opportunity for Peter Sallis to be genuinely unpleasant to someone in the series, and it’s quite a moment. We see Clegg as a man who actively despises the modern, impersonal approach to work… the ‘take a seat and I’ll see if he’s in his office’ attitude is absolute anathema to him. For the first time, we get a glimpse of a man who actually finds contemporary life quite distasteful.

ANDREW: Blamire is really a tragic figure in this episode, desperate to work for a living but completely oblivious to the fact that the world has moved on and no longer needs or desires his services. If anything, his time spent as a salesman for Shinyglow could be interpreted as a nervous breakdown!

BOB: Come on, let’s be generous… it’s a mid-life crisis! Yes, Shinyglow products, with their corrosive, face-destroying cleaning spray. I like the Shinyglow boss Oswald Green, about as stereotypically Welsh a character as you’ll find on 1970s TV – in fact, I spent the entire scene coming to the conclusion that the part had clearly been written with Harry Secombe in mind. And yet again, we see Clegg driving! This time taking control of the Shinyglow van, as Blamire embarks on his short-lived career as a door-to-door salesman. ‘He’s had my leg in neutral twice,’ grumbles Compo. Great line.

ANDREW: I didn’t pick up on that! My new theory is that he must run over a sheep in some unseen adventure between series four and five; that’s the only way I can explain his latter-day abject fear of getting behind the wheel!

BOB: The scenes with Blamire’s face gradually turning green and lumpy following an accidental coating of Shinyglow seemed, again, to be heading into much broader, traditional sitcom territory than we’ve been used to so far, although the scenes in Sid’s Café afterwards are great.

I loved Ivy’s new-found spirituality in particular, and it’s beginning to dawn on me that, despite the central trio’s best attempts, it’s actually Sid that consistently gets the funniest lines in the show…

IVY: Mrs Brocklesby’s going to take me to a lady in Retford who’s in touch with an angel called Kathleen.

SID: Can you call in at Abercrombie’s on the way back? We’re running short of crisps.

ANDREW: At times he gives of a working man’s comic vibe; but in a good way. John Comer actually started his career in comedy acts that toured social clubs and later the variety circuit, and his delivery certainly reflects that.

BOB: The spiritual stuff is a very authentically mid-1970s thing… there was a lot of that kind of stuff around. The Sunday papers were forever filled with table-rappers who had been in touch with Buddy Holly ‘on the other side’, and mediums like Doris Stokes were huge public figures. I imagine most families had an elderly friend or relative (always a woman) who would offer ‘readings’ and attempt to predict the future from tea leaves – I certainly did, and remember my Gran and Mum talking about such things quite a lot. It was a very uncynical age.

As for Sid, it’s just struck me that he bridges the gap between the ‘real’ world and the strange, fantasy existence our three heroes occupy, doesn’t he? He’s the only character so far that has a foot in both camps… he’s married, with a job and a mortgage, but he’s utterly envious of the main trio and their idle drifting and occasionally manages to escape for long enough to join them in their daydreams.  I actually think he’s the character we’re meant to identify with the most… the Summer Wine everyman figure. It’s a great performance from John Comer as well.

The closing scene is lovely… sleeping, under a tree, in the afternoon sunshine. You can’t blame Sid for being jealous.

2.4 Some Enchanted Evening

In which Wally Batty makes his entrance and beats a hasty retreat.

ANDREW: For this episode, I’ve decided to take a risk. Ever since moving in with me, my partner Emma has been exposed to far more wrinkled stockings that she signed on for. Still, she’ll happily accommodate Ronnie Hazlehurst blaring through for the living room and even professed to enjoy our trip to Holmfirth (although I’m still not 100% convinced of that). Would asking her to review an episode alongside us be a step too far? There’s only one way to find out – say hello Emma.

EMMA: Hi. And I did enjoy Holmfirth, even if your Stephen Lewis impressions nearly sent me mad. Oh, It was funny watching you and Bob wee on a school field.

BOB: I remember being caught short under a tree on a long walk back from the pub, but it wasn’t a school field was it? We were in the woods! I feel bad about that now. Although undoubtedly Compo would be proud of us.

Pulling a Lewis

ANDREW: Yeah, anyway, what’s your background with Summer Wine?

EMMA: I used to watch it with my Granddad on Sunday afternoons. We’d have tea, pickled onions, egg and salad. I’ve got mixed emotions I suppose; happy memories, but it makes me miss my Granddad.

ANDREW: This is our first, full-on taste of the Compo/Nora dynamic that will dominate much of the series from now on. He’s truly in heat!

EMMA: He’s really seedy isn’t he? And the thought of him and Nora? Urgh! I’m actually struggling to understand his accent as well. Does it soften as the series go on?

ANDREW: It softens as the episode goes on!

BOB: Does it? I always thought Compo’s accent was really consistent – especially considering that Bill Owen was a rather well-spoken Londoner. I remember being fascinated as a kid by his archaic Yorkshire vocabulary… all those ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. I’ve always been intrigued by language and the way it varies through the generations… when I was a kid, I had an elderly next-door neighbour called Jim Cogan, who had been a coal miner in his working days and spoke with a very thick County Durham accent, and used vernacular that clearly dated from his youth… which, amazingly, was probably around the time of the First World War. I struggled to understand him sometimes when I was very small, and that both baffled and fascinated me. It’s a different accent, but the way that Compo speaks always reminds me a little of Jim.

ANDREW: I definitely think there is a slight difference between his accent during the location filming and the studio sequences. Perhaps his accent naturally softened a little when performing in front of a London studio audience. As you say, though, he’s completely convincing throughout.

BOB: A couple of nice 1970s references in these early scenes as well… Compo’s TV delivery man ‘caught the manager adjusting the horizontal hold on her from the record counter’ and Blamire mentions whooping cough as well! I don’t suppose anyone encounters horizontal holds or whooping cough much these days, but it’s nice to know their legacy has been immortalised.

EMMA: My Mam had whooping cough just the other month! I didn’t hear her whoop that much, just cough. She’s fine now.

ANDREW: And here he is, Wally Batty; Bob’s idol.

EMMA: Why? He’s a bit boring isn’t he? Just muh muh muh (Emma is attempting her own Stephen Lewis impression) He reminds me of Drew. No, not really!

ANDREW: I don’t think I’d mind! Besides, I should remind you that in our first six months of living together, both of us ran home to our Mams’ houses for a bit of respite. Admittedly, we didn’t sneak out during the night, pants in hand, but the principle is the same.

BOB: Wally is brilliant! It’s a fabulous performance from Joe Gladwin – so downtrodden and gloomy, and yet with a fabulous rapier wit. He’s Eeyore in a flat cap and britches.

NORA: (Pointing to Compo) Are you going to let him do what he likes to me?

WALLY: What’s there to like about it?

Brilliant. Again, I see a lot of Jim Cogan in him. Men who had married young, worked like a bastard every single day for fifty years, and now just wanted to eke out their remaining days with pipe, pigeons and ale. Bodies absolutely knackered by decades of back-breaking graft… I don’t know if it’s ever specified what Wally did for a living, but it was clearly bloody hard going and you can see every second of it etched into that face, and piled on top of those hunched shoulders.

When I see Wally Batty, I realise that I really did grow up in a very different era, even to you two fine people. I saw men like Wally all over the place in the 1970s… they were there, I absolutely knew them. But I don’t see them anymore.

Bob speaks from experience.

ANDREW: Joe Gladwin is fantastic. I’d like to believe that he just was Wally Batty as I can’t imagine him playing anything else. Character isn’t just written onto his face, it’s chiselled.

I find this whole episode a bit weird overall. Again there’s a bit of a nasty streak that one wouldn’t expect of the shows later years. I guess it also proves that Roy Clarke never had a master plan, as the whole Nora/Compo plotline is played out in it’s entirety in the space of one half hour. This is as close as they come to getting together, but both will be going through the motions for years to come.

BOB: Compo occasionally seems rueful about his bachelor status here… there a couple of moments when it’s clear his longing isn’t just about the pleasures of the flesh. He’s envious of Wally having a woman to care for him, and look after him. We see him in bed, in his long johns, drinking brown ale and reading ‘True Romances’ magazine as the radio plays out his request for Nora! Sent in under the pseudonym ‘Lonely Brown Eyes…’ its rather touching.

ANDREW: But brilliantly undermined when the DJ refuses to read out Compo’s list of things he’d like to do with Nora and advises him to seek a solicitor before attempting any of them. It’s a list you don’t want to spend much time contemplating!

BOB: There’s a nice bit of slight of hand from Roy Clarke in this episode as well… for a while we’re genuinely led to believe that Wally has left home for good, and Compo is sparking up a fully blown relationship with Nora. At this stage of the series we haven’t seen that much of their cat-and-mouse games, so we’ve no reason to believe that it couldn’t actually happen.

I love the scene in the café, where Blamire and Clegg contemplate life without Compo as part of their regular routine… Blamire has a rant about the unions, Clegg muses about the possibility of God returning to Earth as an insect, and the conversation just doesn’t work at all. They both as much as admit that they don’t actually have much in common… they need the common factor of Compo to bounce off and unite them as a trio. It’s very tight and disciplined characterisation from both writer and actors.  And a neat twist on the time-worn cliché of the teenage boy getting his first girlfriend and abandoning his mates at the drop of a hat. Here the ‘teenagers’ are all pushing sixty, but the same principle applies.

ANDREW: Emma, as a lady of the female persuasion, what did you make of the representation of women here?

EMMA: Well they’re all lesbians or husband abusers. There are no desirable women, at least not by normal standards. Then again, going back to when I first saw Summer Wine, I can recognise a bit of my Grandma and Grandad in the relationships depicted here. A bit less abusive, but with a lack of love on surface and something more underneath. My Grandad wasn’t a Wally, though, and gave more back in return!

ANDREW: What did you think overall then?

EMMA: It was fine. A bit slow though, not much seems to happen.

ANDREW: That’s part of why we like it.

EMMA: Yeah, but you’re weird.

BOB: I’ve been trying to shoehorn this in for a while, but you’re right… Summer Wine works very differently from most other sitcoms of the era. You watch most 1970s sitcoms and they’re very formulaic… you have a small bunch of regular characters in a recognisable place, and every week there’s a plot device that’s set up in the first five minutes, spirals out of control to comedy effect with hilarious consequences, and is resolved in the last five minutes… often with some kind of grand finale… a stunt, or a special routine, or some other way of hammering home a grand punchline. Then the reset switch is pressed so we can do the whole thing again next week.

Early Summer Wine isn’t like that at all… lots of episodes have no real plot at all, they just… drift. Especially in these early series, our three heroes usually aren’t facing any particular problem or pursuing the kind of quest that would normally drive the plot along, they’re just wandering idly through town and countryside, and we follow them. Guest characters drift back and forth through the episodes, often contributing nothing whatsoever in traditional plot terms, but simply adding colour and depth to the world we’re being presented with. There’s often no natural end to the episodes… they just fade out with a gentle fizzle. It’s all about character and atmosphere at this stage, and it’s a breath of fresh air. It feels real, like we’re eavesdropping on randomly-selected thirty minute segments of these characters’ lives and daydreams. It’s absolutely why I like it.

ANDREW: Summer Wine land definitely feels like it has existed long before the cameras start rolling and I think it is mainly the multitude of acquaintances and passersby who drift in and out the episodes that contribute to this. It’s just a lovely place to spend some time, even if it can be grim. Will you come back for more, later?

EMMA: I guess I wouldn’t object too much. I’ll go back to Holmfirth if we can stay at the same place with the nice breakfasts and mad dogs.

BOB: I’d forgotten about the dogs! I’d love to go back. We need to stay somewhere with a TV and DVD player so we can watch a couple of episodes while we’re there!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by David Cook on May 28, 2011 at 9:16 am

    ‘Changing Face’ is one of my favourites of the early shows, with Blaimar’s “depression” being a nice bit of characterisation. It’s not that he need to work (Compo’s comments make it clear he’s quite well set up), but after an active life he just wants to feel he’s still needed.

    I must second the John Comer praise. As a kid in the ‘seventies he always seemed to look like my dad (!) and he added a bit of magic to whatever he appeared in.

    Reply

    • Posted by Andrew T. Smith on May 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

      Is anything else available that John Comer appeared in? I’d love to see more of his work.

      Reply

      • Posted by David Cook on May 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm

        He has a largish part in The Family Way (1966), as the father of Hayley Mills (it’s a smashing little film with a great performance by John Mills).

        Comer also stars in the BBC’s other Northern comedy I Didn’t Know You Cared (which I have strong childhood memories of watching).

        He also pops up in a Tara King-era Avengers (Take-Over) and can be glimpsed in I’m Alright Jack.

        I’m pretty sure he also popped up in a few ‘seventies childrens shows – Potters Picture Palace etc.

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